Ethanol: Too Much Hype—and Corn

Ethanol enjoys subsidies from Congress and has upped corn prices. The rush to alternative fuels has been unwisely skewed to this one industry. Pro or con?

Pro: Bush’s Cornfield of Dreams

Amid the explosion of consumer interest in all things ecological, elected officials are rushing to promote environmentally friendly policies. In his State of the Union speech, President George W. Bush announced his proposal to cut U.S. gasoline consumption by a fifth over the next 10 years, with a major boost in ethanol and other alternative fuels.

But before the proposal gets cheered into law, it requires further scrutiny. The reality remains that ethanol is no magic potion for meaningfully reducing oil dependence and lowering greenhouse gases. The prospect of boosting ethanol production to 35 billion barrels by 2017 will require massive tax subsidies and produce such environmental damage that the plan can be considered little more than a dream.

One problem with ethanol is its cost. It’s subsidized by the U.S. government at a rate of 51 cents per gallon, and federal and state subsidies for the fuel added up to $6 billion last year. As the number of gallons produced multiplies, so will the cost to the taxpayer.

Taxes aren’t the only burden that will fall on consumers. As ethanol usurps more of the corn crop, the price of corn rises, boosting food prices. Already, about 20% of the corn crop goes toward ethanol production, up from just 3% five years ago. That drove up corn prices 80% in 2006 alone. This week, Richard Bond, the chief executive of meat producer Tyson Foods TSN, warned that if corn continues to be diverted from animal feed, consumers will likely pay “significantly” more for food.

But even if ethanol costs a lot, doesn’t it at least benefit the environment? Not necessarily. Because it’s an oxygenate, ethanol increases levels of nitrous oxides in the atmosphere and causes smog. Researchers are debating the extent to which it reduces greenhouse gases, with some estimates as low as 5%. Also, ethanol lags gasoline in fuel efficiency, and it requires fossil fuels like coal or gas to refine and transport it.

Ethanol’s supporters say that not all ethanol will come from corn crops, and point to the great promise of “cellulosic” ethanol—made from nonfood crops like corn chips and wheatgrass. But the great hope of cellulosic is dampened by a gaping hole in the technology: The enzyme that will convert these plants to starch, and thus ethanol, has yet to be discovered.

So what’s the alternative to Big Corn? If the government is serious about finding cost-effective and environmentally sound alternatives to oil, it will need to invest more in research for cellulosic ethanol, as well as for wind and solar energies. Of course, the other alternative—less costly but surely not as popular—is conservation. That word was noticeably absent from the State of the Union speech.

Con: Ethanol Is Our Most Viable Choice

Ethanol enjoys its favored status because it constitutes the only real option the U.S. has to disrupt what President Bush terms our addiction to foreign oil. A congress of science and economics hasn’t yet managed to generate other viable technologies to power our vehicles—and a shift toward greater use of alternative fuels is clearly necessary. As a nation, we use three times more of the worldwide oil output each year than the next-largest consumer does, and we contribute far more than our share of global carbon emissions. That makes Bush’s call for 35 billion gallons of alternative fuels over the next decade practically a mandate for our role as responsible global citizens.

Additionally, the ethanol industry plays a crucial role for the U.S. Farm Belt. Higher corn prices are helping to recharge economically depressed rural economies, and new ethanol plants bring decent-paying jobs to areas that have suffered chronic underemployment (see BusinessWeek.com, 01/10/07, “Who Profits from Corn’s Pop?”). The 5.3 billion gallons of ethanol used last year consumed only 20% of the nation’s corn crop. Meeting Bush’s goal would still require less than half of the entire corn crop—and that’s only if no new corn production is added.

Moreover, the U.S.’s vital agriculture economy depends heavily on healthy corn prices for farmers, and the current cost of around $4 per bushel is manageable for the economy. The genius of free-market capitalism will sort out what needs to happen as corn prices mature and other corn-dependent industries compete for the feedstock. Ethanol also could become much cheaper than it is now, roughly in line with unleaded gasoline, if Washington ends tariffs on imported ethanol. That tariff, 54 cents a gallon, distorts ethanol’s real cost and slows its U.S. expansion.

Archer Daniels Midland ADM, VeraSun Energy VSE, and other ethanol producers are spending heavily to research feed materials beyond corn, “cellulosic ethanol” (produced from cornstalks, sorghum, wood chips, and switchgrass), and the like. These efforts would render moot worries that greater corn use will adversely affect the overall economy. Regardless of feed source, ethanol has proved a viable industry, as seen by Brazil’s dramatic success in converting its fuel systems to the fuel.

Reader Comments

vic

I was in Switzerland and found that on many roofs solar batteries were installed. This is Switzerland -- where there's snow 50% of the year. I live in Las Vegas, with "400 sunny days" per year. If all roofs in the Las Vegas area were covered with solar batteries, it would produce more electricity than the Hoover Dam.

Richard

Let's mandate 5% to 9% renewable fuels nationwide.

Our consumption is measured in quadrillions of people, and 1% of numbers that big is very real.

All gasoline cars are capable of using 10% ethanol, and diesel vehicles are capable of up to 20%. Technologically we can do it.

Let's be real: Renewable fuel will ALWAYS cost more than petroleum. The cost of manufacturing will exceed the costs of finding oil. What I'm proposing will be a burden.

We must share this burden. Let's use economics to drive down the cost however it can. Sharing this cost would encourage conservation and innovation here in the U.S. This is the way to accomplish energy independence at the lowest cost, and grow U.S. technology.

Wouldn't this be a great way to end farm subsidies? Don't U.S./Europe farm subsidies contribute to Third World poverty? The U.S. could use some goodwill in the world right now.

Why is everyone hung up on climate change? There is a lot we can do now and a lot of reasons to start.

Steve G

It is a dangerous thing to use food as a fuel source. Greed already is the reason a significant percentage of people on God's green earth are starving. It is a strong possibility that an increase in ethanol use would mean less food going to the poor.

For many organizations in the world (government and nongovernment), if their food supply is well met, then there isn't a strong need to hoard food. However, if the food can be turned to fuel, then there would be a strong desire to hoard, and turn it into (if you pardon the pun) a more liquid commodity.

Also, not only will corn be more valuable, but also it will cause more farmland to convert to corn, thereby reducing total food output. The more expensive food becomes, the harder it will be for the poor to eat.

Wai L. Chui

Energy is involved in everything we do. Energy security therefore needs a multi-prong response. The current infatuation with ethanol seems like a search for a magic bullet to me.

Mr. European

You've got so much sun in California, Florida, Las Vegas, and Texas, and you don't use it? Why don't you feed your SUV's with McWhoppers!

Keith

What I don't understand is why no one talks about producing ethanol using sugar. Everyone always talks about corn. Maybe there is a reason and I don't know, and if anyone knows I would like to hear it. If we stopped the tariffs on imported sugar, we would stop paying about four times the world price of sugar, and as of 2/2/07 the world price of sugar was 11 cents per pound. It is a far better option than corn.

If the government really wanted to get production up quickly, there is an easy solution. Allow people to make it at home. All because the government wants a piece of the taxes, we will suffer. I am sure some will say that it isn't economically realistic to have people produce their own ethanol, but I say it could be because you are taking a lot out of the value chain, it doesn't get much more factory direct pricing then that. I could be wrong on these things, I am not an expert. However, these are options I feel might work a little bit better than the current ideas.

Kitty

I personally think we need to look into solar power and wind power more. They are resources that government cannot tax (although I am sure the government will find a way), and we have a large supply of them. This does not take away from food production.

The biggest problem I see is that we do not make it affordable for the people to utilize, and it is basically overlooked as a resource.

B. D.

The problem with what Kitty is saying here is there is no way one can just "make" something affordable. Obviously, prices are based on market conditions and the economy, and the cost of production,(factored with materials, refining, etc.) Unfortunatly, there isn't some sort of way anyone can just decide "today alternative energy sources are now affordable by all." Things don't work like that in the real world.

Joe

I live in New England and am surrounded by decaying mills with dams and spillways that are still in good shape but serve no purpose anymore. The small rivers provided power to the mills and contributed to the economic importance of the region in the 19th century. Just about every town has at least one of these mill/spillway complexes—convert them all to run some small, efficient hydro-electric turbines, and each town would be able to give that energy back to the grid.

Ronald R. Cooke

Congress has decided to use our tax payer dollars to raise the price of food, increase the cost of motor fuels, and promote global warming. One could make the case Congressional action has also increased malnutrition, hunger, and disease.

Is this what we want?

Incidentally, Business Week's assertion that corn ethanol has an energy gain of 30 percent is simply not true. My essay: "What Is The Real Cost Of Corn Ethanol?" can be found at http://www.federalenergypolicy.blogspot.com/

Steve Laws

I say again, if people would be less greedy about having to have more toys than the next guy, we could lower our fuel consumption. Why can't we be happy with what really matters in life?

Mark Deshaw

To both Steves who assert "greed" is the problem: Pursuing a higher level of material comfort has been part of our DNA since a caveman decided sleeping on hay was better than a cold cave floor. To deny this innate urge is to deny our very identity as humans. Don't forget that our desire for "more toys" is the key factor in pulling the Third World out of poverty and despair. It's responsible for the miracles of Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and Malaysia (and more recently, India and China). Neo-socialist rhetoric aside, greed is the catalyst for human evolutionary improvement.

Tom

Environmental economics suggests that the simple solution to all these difficulties would be to impose a higher tax on petroleum. The U.S. population will only respond to economic incentives, as they have proven throughout the roller coaster of oil prices in the past few years. As oil prices rise, there is a direct correlation between the increased sales of higher-efficiency vehicles and adoption of alternative fuels.

Increased fuel costs would also give alternative fuels a chance to fairly enter the market without subsidies. It would also give automatic economic incentives for expedited research, development, and adoption of fuel-saving technologies. The only way to make this happen now is to use basic economic principles. Society will adjust itself to higher taxes as the economy moves to the social optimum.

Ethanol (preferably starch or cane-based) is only one stepping stone on the road to increased efficiency and overall decreased reliance on fossil fuels.

Frank

Another thing to look at: mass transit. Why do we have so many cars at all? Sure, there's the toy argument. But many people live in rural areas with no buses, which is not a great help to protect the environment. The typical fallback is to get a car. After all, you need to go and buy food, get the kids to their play dates, and so on. I'm sure there are many opportunities in the future.

Sarah

Consider the impact of using ethanol as a fuel replacement in the United States. Assuming our ethanol craze moves forward, we will have an average fuel base made up of a blend of traditional oil-based products (gasoline, diesel) and ethanol. And assuming that on a per-mile transportation basis, ethanol (which is less efficient) is going to be more expensive than oil-based products, the average U.S. fuel cost will go up.

Of great concern is that it will go up significantly when compared with other countries (China, Japan, other industrialized countries) who will continue to use oil-based products. And because their average cost for fuel is going to be lower than in the United States, they are going to become more efficient or productive.

Maybe those billions of dollars would be better spent on lighter vehicle technologies (which are already here) and high-efficiency mass transportation and light rail systems.

Demetri

The claims made by Tyson Foods are simply untrue. While corn prices have risen, this has not been because of the diversion of corn from animal feeds. The United States subsidizes corn because of the major problem of the industry —there is simply far more corn being produced in the country than we can consume. As a result, scientists have scrambled for new ways of utilizing the excess corn. Enter high fructose corn syrup, which has nearly eliminated the use of cane sugar in juices, soft drinks, and other products.

The fact is that there is so much corn that if you were to visit a grain elevator in the Midwest, you would find farmers dumping corn on the ground since the elevator is completely full, and regardless they will still get paid by the government (the taxpayers) for their corn.

Furthermore, the feeding of corn to cattle puts them in a constant state of poor health, as their ruminant digestive system is highly specialized for the consumption of grass. They must constantly be medicated with antibiotics in order to keep them alive. Corn- and antibiotic-fed beef has been repeatedly proven to cause negative health effects in humans who consume them.

High fructose corn syrup has also been proven to be one of the sources of the obesity epidemic in this country. HFCS spikes blood sugar much more dramatically than pure cane sugar, increasing the risk of diabetes. While sugar consumption has remained constant, soft drink giants such as Coca Cola have been using their marketing campaigns to get us to consume more and more soda, as the government pressures them to use more of the corn surplus.

Is ethanol our knight in shining armor? Absolutely not. Is corn in danger of being diverted from important sources of consumption? Absolutely not. But with the slow emergence of consumer health-consciousness and the War on Terror fighting to maintain U.S. access to oil as reserves reach near-depletion, it seems like a healthy option to develop—an option that should be seen as a supplemental step in reducing consumption until alternative means such as liquid hydrogen can be realized.

Juan

Invade Cuba and change the government to a pro U.S. group. Bring sugar cane farming up to modern standards and build ethanol plants near the northern ports of Cuba. It would give us a supply source within 100 miles of the U.S., and it would probably be the cheapest ethanol produced.

Rolf McEwen

The sun shines most of the time all over the southern states in the U.S. What prevents homeowners and businesses from converting sunshine into energy? Can people achieve nothing on their own?

Michael Massey

In 1974, corn was more than $14 a bushel in 2006 inflation-adjusted dollars. Since then, corn farmers have become more and more efficient, and the benefits get passed on to the consumer. It's time the pork, chicken, and beef producers learn that it's the consumer who gets all the benefits of ag efficiency and not ag producers. Help the poor subsidized grain farmer who is subsidizing the livestock industry and demand that the consumer pay a fair share. Which is better: Pay less to the farmer to pay more to the Middle East? Or pay more to the farmer (and rancher) and pay less to the Middle East? Currently, consumers are paying less for food so they can pay more for oil. The price of a loaf of $1 bread breaks out to 10 cents to the farmer, more than 40 cents to the Middle East, and 50 cents to the grocery store and middleman profits. Can consumers figure out if you pay 20 cents to the farmer and 30 cents to the Middle East that the bread costs the same? Big Oil loves ag fighting against ag. They can keep making all the dough.

Eric Morrison

Researchers (other than those of the USDA) have been illustrating the insanity of using ethanol as motor fuel for years. Most recently, a Rutgers University study ("Renewable Ethanol and Energy Security") showed that we could use all the corn in the country and only produce 3.5% of our fuel needs. Moreover, the supply of ethanol (due to weather variations) would be less predictable than that of gasoline. I'm happy to see the media finally catching wind of this insanity.

Katrineholm Review - Katrineholm, Sweden

More needs to be done with the energy already present in nature in the form of wind, sun, and water. Attention to these resources needs to be galvanized to the same degree the USA galvanized its resources to go to the moon in the 1960s.

whsteffan

Hey, leave it to BusinessWeek to get things half right. Nowhere in the article is there any mention of distillers' grain, which is the residue left after corn is made into ethanol. Until BusinessWeek studies up on distillers' grain and reports on it, it has no business putting out these half-baked articles.

TJIT

Demetri,
There is a surplus of corn, because the government heavily subsidizes its production. High-fructose corn syrup is profitable only because tariffs keep foreign gin-produced cane sugar out of the U.S. markets. These tariffs were implemented and continue after considerable lobbying efforts by companies like ADM, and the corn growers. It takes more energy to make ethanol then ethanol produces when burned. The idea that ethanol production will reduce petroleum consumption is laughable.

TJIT

To make ethanol, we use petroleum-fueled tractors to plow the fields. We apply petroleum-based herbicides to kill the weeds. We apply petroleum-based pesticides to kill the bugs. We apply petroleum-based fertilizers to feed the plants. We harvest the corn with petroleum-fueled tractors, and ship the corn to the ethanol plants in petroleum-fueled trucks. The ethanol plants are natural gas hogs, consuming enormous quantities to ferment and purify an ethanol solution that is primarily water. We then ship the ethanol, often halfway across the country, in petroleum-fueled trucks. The customer on the receiving end pays less than market price for the ethanol, due to the subsidies, which are funded by taxpayers. Then, they suffer a decrease in gas mileage, meaning they have to fuel up more often.

RC

One thing that is rarely mentioned, and is absent from the article here, is that ethanol production does not consume corn; it simply strips it of its starch. What's left is a high-protein meal that, when dried, is sold as animal feed. It is a commodity that has a market price and has been sold for decades. As such, the diversion of corn from feed to ethanol production does not eliminate that volume from the feed capacity in its entirety. Additionally, if we need more corn, there are millions of acres on which more can be grown. If the price continues to rise, you can be assured the free market will respond with a greater supply, driving the price back down. It always happens. The popular idea that it takes more energy to make ethanol than it produces is not only wrong but also irrelevant. Ethanol, like electricity, is an energy-conversion technology—taking an energy source we have a lot of (corn in the case of ethanol, natural gas in the case of electricity) and converting it into a form of energy we need. You never hear anyone arguing the energy value of gas vs. electricity, because we need the energy in the form of electricity, not gas.

The same is true of ethanol. We are taking a non-energy-producing fuel and making energy we need out of it. That is a 100% gain. Whether corn is used as animal feed or for ethanol, it still has to be grown, fertilized, harvested, processed, trucked, etc. The fact that it's delivered to an ethanol plant vs. a feedlot is relevant only in light of the outcome: energy in a form we can use vs. pure consumption of the product. Compared to wind and solar, which are the two most inefficient forms of energy production in the world, it's a sure bet that ethanol is an industry that will only improve, become more efficient, and make a significant impact over the next decade.

jzny

In China, people simply put black tubes on their roofs to heat up water. It is a cheap alternative to silicon. The technology has been there for several decades. We don't need fancy technologies to save the earth. Just saving a little will help.

David Skilling

Sugar beets should be the feedstock of choice as they are not used for animal or human food directly, and the arable land required for them is 25% less than that required by corn.

GS

The energy input to output for corn ethanol is about 1:1.3. Also, using corn for ethanol is taking it away from its other main use as food. If corn ethanol gets established, food prices will inevitably go up.

Robert

Ethanol produced from corn uses 4 gallons of water for every 1 gallon of ethanol produced. Does this seem to be a good idea?

Ron Steenblik (Global Subsidies Initiative)

How can Justin Bachman speak of "the genius of free-market capitalism" in the same breath with the words "corn" or "ethanol." U.S. policy in this market has nothing to do with the invisible hand and everything to do with government intervention at every stage in the chain, from corn production to the generally enormous flex-fuel vehicles that Congress has encouraged through loopholes in the CAFE standards.

And if Mr. Bachman thinks the transition to cellulosic ethanol will mean a quick and radical shift away from corn, he should think again. Many of the experts with whom I have spoken believe the feedstock of choice, at least in the Midwest, will remain corn—perhaps more parts of the plant than just the kernels, but still corn.

Meanwhile, the subsidies mount up. Doug Koplow and I have estimated the cost to the U.S. Treasury of meeting President Bush's 35-billion-gallon-a-year alternative fuel standard with ethanol would be at least $118 billion over the next 11 years. State-level subsidies could boost that number even higher.

Surely there are more cost effective ways of reducing gasoline use and greenhouse-gas emissions.

Bill

Ethanol is far from a panacea. As noted, it takes a lot of energy to produce and deliver this fuel, at substantial cost. We are still burning a hydrocarbon that produces carbon dioxide. Solar, hydroelectric, and wind are great alternatives in certain geographic areas. Unfortunately, the laws of physics prevent these options from viability in many areas of our country.

There is one solution that tends to be ignored: nuclear power. This is the only power source that doesn't require foreign energy, is unlimited (using breeder reactors), can produce clean electricity to make hydrogen from water, and is much safer overall than drilling, producing, and burning petroleum and other hydrocarbons. A little education can resolve any reasonably intelligent person's concerns about nuclear energy. Without this resource, we are resigned to grasping at straws to produce the energy that few people are willing to give up.

demian

I tend to agree with the sugar comments, but only to the extent that we remove restrictions that prevent importing sugar-based ethanol, and phase out the corresponding excise tax credit for blenders. Under our current sugar-support regime (a whole other story), producing ethanol from U.S. corn is not practical or cost effective. Also, it really isn't feasible to meet the artificial demand for ethanol that has been created in the short term. You can't just expand corn production that much overnight. Expect a lot of highs and lows in the ethanol and corn markets over the next 5 to 10 years. We're adding the volatility of energy markets to the already-volatile agriculture markets. And did anyone notice oil prices slipped over the weekend?

Steven T

Why not take out the subsidies that provide for high-fructose corn syrup and use that corn for ethanol. That way, they could get that crap out of sodas and foods and put it in our cars.

Doug

The ethanol boondoggle is one of most carefully crafted schemes ever devised. It's a sad and pathetic example of how the American public, Congress, and the President, too, have been hoodwinked into believing ethanol contributes anything meaningful to the nation's energy supply. That could hardly be further from the truth. Nonetheless, the politicians love it for the candy it is and the narrow special interests that dole out the political dollars. This scam will eventually blow up, but not until it has fleeced the public coffers and disrupted our food supply and businesses.

calvino

Ethanol is fantastic. I keep hearing whining about ethanol from:
1. Shills for nukes
2. Shills for big oil
3. Shills against subsidies, who send other people's children to fight for oil.
4. Shills for McDonald's and a fat America. Friends, food is too cheap, and we are too fat. Nowhere should a quarter pounder be available for 99 cents.
5. Shills for granola and the perfect future world. It is good for you to go off grid and recycle your own offal for fertilizer; however leave me out of it. I would be happy to go with solar and wind power, as long as I do not have to listen to your sanctimonious whining.

Tony

One of the factors that no one seems to be considering is that growing more corn crops may actually contribute to global warming by changing land use and altering the albedo ratio (reflected sunlight). The IPCC report actually lists this as one of the more poorly understood climate factors in global warming. One study in Brazil found very discouraging results, with a localized increase in temperature of 3 C resulting from changes in land use from forest and meadowland to crops like corn. The global warming problem is just as likely to be exacerbated by an agricultural solution as it is to be remedied by it. More research is badly needed, but instead the need for research funds is being ignored in favor of tax subsidies.

robert

Anything to get away from imported oil. Anything: sun, wind, rivers. Why not use corn and the rest, but let's get started and quit the talk.—rflatin

todd e-85

It doesn't matter if ethanol production is competitive or not. It is about fuel security, and today it's a political disaster to be anti-ethanol so long as Iowa has corn or elections. Farmers will grow more corn. If we have a weather problem during May to July, food, feed, and fuel-corn users will experience pain.

The U.S. government will continue to protect U.S. blenders by keeping the .51 cent blenders' credit in place as long as there is an AFS, and will keep the .54 cent per gallon import duty in place for the same period as well. The best thing we can do for fuel prices is simply drive less and become more efficient. You don't have to drive to the grocery store in a 10 mpg SUV XL. Your food will taste just as good if you drive to the store in a 35 mpg vehicle.

pauldanish

BusinessWeek, of all publications, has ignored a crucial dimension of the ethanol story, the supply side. One of the consequences of high corn prices is that approximately 10 million additional acres of corn will be planted this year, which should yield an additional 1.4 billion bushels of corn. That 1.4 billion bushels is enough to make approximately 4 billion gallons of ethanol, which probably represents the production capacity of the new ethanol plants that will come on line this year. Moreover, it should be possible to add another 10 million or 15 million acres of corn planting next year as well without much effort. The various Chicken Littles should calm down; there will be sufficient corn to meet their needs for awhile. Shame on you BusinessWeek; may a great invisible hand come down out of the sky and slap you upside the head.

As for those who argue solar or wind energy is an alternative to ethanol, they are also overlooking a crucial point: Energy is not entirely fungible. Neither solar nor wind energy is a direct substitute for gasoline. The United States has an addiction to foreign oil, not foreign electricity or foreign hot water.

Or more to the point, the world has an addiction to oil produced by countries that are funding and otherwise sustaining the global jihad. It is this addiction that lies at the core of the problem; we hardly have to worry about an addiction to foreign oil if the foreign country it comes from is Canada or Norway.

The point of stimulating ethanol production is not to combat global warming, although it will certainly contribute to that, at least marginally; it is to create a permanent surplus in world motor-fuel markets that will break the price of oil and defund the jihad. The issue is national security, not global warming.

Viewed in this context, it doesn't matter if ethanol is just a way of turning coal and natural gas into a gasoline substitute. If the coal and natural gas are produced in the U.S., we are ahead of the game.

Moreover, viewed in this context, subsidizing ethanol makes sense as well. Consider: If the subsidy were raised to $1 a gallon from $0.51, and if somehow this resulted in every gallon of gasoline consumed in the United States being replaced by a gallon of ethanol, the total annual subsidy would come to about $140 billion. That seems like a lot of money until you realize it is less than one third of the defense budget, and in return for that, we would have destroyed the economies of all of the countries funding the jihad—and given a savage knock to brothers Chavez and Putin as well. That strikes me as a pretty good deal.

Q. Thews

The reason people keep pointing out electrical power solutions is the U.S. uses some of its oil to fuel the creation of electrical power. Nuclear power combined with solar and wind could easily remove the need for all fossil fuels to create electricity. A solution for automobiles that I have not seen is biodiesel. It would be easy to convert some of the existing cars, and converting car manufacturing would be simple. You could use use cooking oils to create the fuel.

Jeff

Alcohol as a fuel source would surely reduce greenhouse gases, because unlike petroleum-based fuels (coal, gasoline, diesel, etc.), alcohol is made from plants that take carbon from the atmosphere, while petroleum fuels when burned release interred carbon from inside the Earth, where it was previously separate from the Earth's atmospheric gases.

Ed

Each gallon of blended 10% ethanol has a 5-cent subsidy to the blender. It is often 3 to 5 cents lower than regular gasoline, so the average user has benefited and actually recovered the government subsidy. Looks like pretty much a win-win situation. Of course, we could send money to the Middle East for use by who knows who.

Braden

Bill,
Ethanol is carbon-neutral, because all the carbon produced in the burning of ethanol was removed from the atmosphere in the growing of the corn. That's in contrast to petroleum, with carbon that has been sequestered under the earth for millions of years.

Ethanol has an energy efficiency of 1:1.2 or 1.3. As such, it's a poor fuel, but it should be part of our fuel economy: the part that the free market determines. I hate these fuel subsidies; they're all the product of corn lobbying. Cellulosic ethanol is often pushed by other (timber) lobbyists, but at least it can be used on garbage (of which we have too much and no one wants). Eliminate grain subsidies and tariffs. The only subsidy I would promote is on solar or wind power.

Bob

The truth always is somewhere in the middle, as they say. This much I know. I'm in the business of producing ethanol. We are focusing on corn-based to get our business to a different realm where we can produce ethanol of municipal solid waste. We are also looking at producing ethanol of different grains that grow well in areas of the country currently having trouble in the agriculture industry. This is a boost for the local area as well, as we are giving it more options for planting. Let's see, here are some interesting tidbits:
- Our plant designs will not use natural gas to fuel the boiler, but rather leftover steam normally let off into the atmosphere. That's right, we are going to build our plant next to a power plant that has excess steam.

- The corn portion of the plant will extract the leftover corn oil and sell it to biodiesel producers.

- The remaining grain will then be sold back to the power plant to be used as a substitute for the coal it uses to fire the plant.

- Our plant will inject money into the local markets and into the U.S. economy. I doubt that the people from Citco see it that way, however.

Oh, BTW, the cost of gasoline isn't what you see at the pump; there aren't any studies out there that calculate the true cost of gasoline—that being the cost that includes building an army of warships, soldiers, diplomats, police, etc. required to secure sources of oil for our precious gasoline. Why don't you see that? Because the people sitting behind the desk are too afraid to figure it out. It's too much of a challenge, and in order to keep your job when your editor asks for a story, it's a lot easier to surf the Internet for a bit on domestic issues than it is to get the real cost of gasoline.

You know it, and I know it.

I'd rather waste $100 billion on our own economy than ship it directly out to those who simply love to plan our destruction.

E.Patrick Mosman

For all those advocating ethanol, methanol, hydrogen, and biodiesel as alternatives to hydrocarbon-based fuels, consider the the following basic laws of thermodynamics that control all processes:
1. Energy is neither created nor destroyed; it changes from one form to another.
2. The energy available after a chemical reaction is less than that at the beginning of a reaction; energy conversions are not 100%.

To be factual, ethanol contains only 66% of the energy, BTUs/USG of gasoline, as shown below:
1. Gasoline BTU/USG 114,194
2. Diesel BTU/USG 125,881
3. Ethanol BTU/USG 76,000
The lower energy content results in increased fuel consumption, i.e. lower mpg.

For those who support the idea that there is a positive energy balance for ethanol, perhaps one will sit down and calculate the energy balance in a nonhydrocarbon world using only ethanol as the energy source to produce ethanol—no hydrocarbon-based natural gas, gasoline, diesel fuel, lubricants, petrochemicals for rubber, plastics, fertilizer for the transportation of seeds, planting, growing, fertilizing, harvesting, transporting the raw material (corn, for instance), the production, special storage/transportation, blending, and losses due to solubility in water.

LT

I don't believe our energy problems can be solved by using food sources for fuel. If the liberals would ease up on their objections to oil exploration and refinement in the United States, we wouldn't even be having this debate. Let's drill for oil here on our soil, and tap the reserves in our waters that other countries are using. Then ethanol will become a mute point.

Pat

Corn farmers do not like their past dependence on handouts from the USDA in the form of price subsidies so they can continue to provide below-market feed for animals. Why should corn farmers starve and beg for subsidies when we finally have a market that supports a fair price for our commodity? Look at the run-down but proud rural Midwestern farm towns if you think that farmers are getting "rich" from the price of corn. Sure, take away the tariff and blenders credit. Why not shoot the burgeoning ethanol in the knees before it has matured? Let's just transfer our energy dependence from Iraq to Brazil this year by removing the tariff on sugar-based ethanol. We need to increase our trade deficit a little longer. Either we are energy-independent or we are not. Either we support our ability to produce ethanol from cropland or we do not. Hasn't OPEC and our dependence on foreign countries taught us anything?

steve crouse

Nuclear power is the only option available to the us that will get us out of the Mideast quagmire. Unproven theories about man's contribution to the "global warming problem" don't interest me. I just want those boys home where they belong—not fighting for a declining portion of the world energy supply. The technology for the safe disposal of nuclear waste seems to be at least as far advanced as the technology of cellulosic ethanol. We are being left behind in the nuclear power industry when it comes to other developed countries. It's time our politicians realize this and make the hard decisions to pursue this option.

Al K. Hall

For those who remark that ethanol is less efficient and returns lower fuel mileage per gallon. Remember that you are comparing its use in an 87-octane gasoline engine. An engine designed to run on 115- to 120-octane ethanol can use higher cylinder compression, which boosts horsepower. Therefore, internal combustion engines designed to operate on the fuel can be smaller in displacement/lighter in weight for the same amount of output power. Smaller and lighter needs less fuel to achieve the same power result that a current gasoline engine does.

Keith

Subsidized food-burning is not the key to peace and prosperity. Think about it.

hegdekatte

Both world politics and environmental concerns are real. Fossil fuels (coal included) are both bad, because they are from the Middle East and also because they contribute to pollution and global warming. Governments around the world should do two things:
1. Heavily tax fossil fuels, domestic or imported.
2. Spend on R&D to develop nonfossil fuels.
Gor god's sake, leave the rest to the market.

Ethanol can be made from several sources. Biodiesel from jatropha is even better than ethanol, because jatropha does not displace food crops.

marc

Economics govern almost everything we touch in life. Food, fuel, consumer things, etc. The economics of ethanol are not conducive to energy independence or energy efficiency. The ethanol industry is composed of a welfare-based agricultural foundation. People living on homesteaded land with "real" means (real estate value) and equity that may be utilized to further, manage, or promote a business venture are receiving price supports to plant and grow corn to be transformed into less-efficient fuel on a price-supported basis. The corn growers have been doing this since the 1960s. The people in New Orleans or other nonsubsidized areas should be so fortunate to have been price-subsidized since 1960. Fuel that becomes the ultimate product, ethanol, is grown price-supported. The manufacturing process is price-supported in many states and locales throughout the growing districts. The less-efficient ethanol fuel produced consumes more BTUs in processing and uses available water, natural gas, and electricity as heat sources that might otherwise not be consumed at such a rapid rate if ethanol were not being manufactured.

One additional caveat: The ethanol is not subject to the federal gas tax, because it is agricultural produce. Therefore, our infrastructure of highways and byways is not being funded at a 100% level due to the "saintly status given to each gallon of ethanol produced at a subsidy."

Yet, Americans and our governmental leadership at almost every level refuse to become more efficient in our energy-consumptive habits and behavior. The tools we develop to aid in the conduct of societal life continue to be energy-gulping inefficient consumers. Our elected officials label energy conservation or efficient use of energy a "way-of-life-altering prospect," something we will go to war to avoid.

Our country seems to be on a self-destructive path. Burn all the fuel (all types, renewable or otherwise), do not reduce consumption of anything, and take our food sources and use them for fuel as well, because we can! In the end, we will scratch our heads and ask why did this happen to us so quickly, the altering of our way of life? Who did this to us?

The ethanol subsidy should be diverted to support people who regularly use mass transit and do not own a gas- or ethanol-guzzling car or truck—or go to solar, wind, or nuclear-power technology.

KC Clark

In the U.S., ethanol is nothing more than welfare for corn farmers and Presidential candidates buying votes.

Andrew

There would be no debate if we used our resources and industry to reshape our cities and towns to reduce the need for the automobile. Planners in the early 20th century said: "We must reshape our cities to take full advantage of the automobile." Today we are forced to drive everywhere. Remove subsidies for the automobile infrastructure and invest in walkable and mass transit alternatives.

George

If the government were serious about pursuing ethanol as an alternative to oil, it would remove the tariff on sugar from Brazil, Central America, and the Caribbean to produce ethanol. That would reduce significantly the price of ethanol and make it more competitive with oil. At the same time it would increase U.S influence in Latin America, reduce illegal immigration, and counterbalance Chavez' influence in the area. It would also reduce subsidies and the taxpayers' burden.

Harvey Meredith

Making moonshine from corn and then calling it an alternative fuel is insane. To produce Bush's 35 billion gallons of ethanol would take 140% of the 2006 bumper corn crop. There won't be enough corn to feed people and ethanol plants. Those costly ethanol plants are going to rust out while the cost of groceries doubles. Land prices have already gone up 30% to 40% in value because of ethanol. A new crisis is developing in rural America. In the meantime, Congress won't allow an oil refinery to be built or drilled for oil on federal lands. Oil is where the energy is, and it should be utilized.

bob

I'm against corn for ethanol and 200% for switch grass. Look at the facts. Switch grass can be reaped 2 times a season, where corn can be harvested once a year in the corn belt. Compared with corn, switch grasses have a 10x ethanol yield per acre. If I were a farmer, I would grow switch grass as an ethanol cash crop and still have acreage to grow corn to feed people and livestock. Best of both worlds. I also believe the press is not touting this method enough, and putting too much emphasis on the "corn" crisis.

William

I don't hear anyone talking about the 6 gallons of water it takes to make 1 gallon of ethanol. I wonder how long Minnesota will have its ten thousand lakes.

Daves

Sugarcane, not feed grain, is already being used successfully to produce ethanol in Brazil. The U.S. could import it if we didn't have a tariff on its ethanol to bump up our corn usage. Sugar beets are a nonfood crop that can be used for ethanol. They can be grown even in the northernmost of all 48 mainland states. It can produce the same amount of ethanol as corn on 25% less farmland in the U.S. After conversion to ethanol, it creates a byproduct, a high-quality animal feed that could decrease the cost of meats in the U.S.

The USDA has "studied" this feedstock and determined it to be more expensive to use than corn. While stating in its study that ethanol could be produced directly from sugar beet juice (mostly water containing 17% sugar), it skewed the results of the study by concluding the distillery—instead of crushing raw sugar beets—would convert the beet to raw sugar and molasses before adding water back in and fermenting for alcohol.

No direct-to-ethanol from beet juice has been tried—and it won't be as long as the government subsidizes refined sugar production on the one hand while insisting corn is the answer (to appeal to a larger voting block) on the other. The USDA should be tasked with determining the cost of the impact on all consumers of only using corn for ethanol (its impact on human and livestock food costs should be factored into the costs of supporting corn). There would be more of a market for sugar beets—and less need for that current subsidy—if sugar beet juice was extracted and fermented instead of the energy intensive milling, hydrating, and converting corn starch to sugar and then fermenting as is now done with corn.

Bob

France has for the last 30+ years enjoyed the benefits of nuclear power. So many voices call for copying the miserable failures of European health care and tax policies but turn a blind eye to the one real success Europe has had, nuclear power generation. Its lack of inclusion in the list of possible alternative energy solutions is positively glaring.

Jim

Ethanol Charade
July 07, 2005
Cornell University and University of California-Berkeley study.
"There is just no energy benefit to using plant biomass for liquid fuel," says David Pimentel, professor of ecology and agriculture at Cornell. "These strategies are not sustainable."

Pimentel and Tad W. Patzek, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Berkeley, conducted a detailed analysis of the energy input-yield ratios of producing ethanol from corn, switch grass, and wood biomass as well as for producing biodiesel from soybean and sunflower plants. Their report is published in Natural Resources Research (Vol. 14:1, 65-76).

In terms of energy output compared with energy input for ethanol production, the study found that:
• corn requires 29 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced;
• switch grass requires 45 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced; and
• wood biomass requires 57 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced.

In terms of energy output compared with the energy input for biodiesel production, the study found that:
• soybean plants requires 27 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced, and
• sunflower plants requires 118 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced.

Jack Shortt, PE

We certainly seem to have lost our way. Can we not learn from the lessons of history?

Government central planning and a government-controlled economy have never worked in the long run. So why are we attempting to do it again? Why does anyone think it will work?

Are we attempting to create a new socialist state? Energy is the heart of the economy. If the politicians are allowed to manage (control) the production and use of energy, they will be managing our economy.

What is the purpose of all this ethanol business? There will never be enough of it to replace petroleum imports. It will never improve the environment, nor will it reduce carbon emissions. Not even close to what is needed.

Does anyone know what we are doing? I think we may be enhancing the authority of the politicians, lining the pockets of their supporters, and threatening the free market that can ultimately resolve this energy "crisis."

Wind, solar, etc. all help a little, but at the cost of heavy subsidies, controlled by the politicians. They fail any reasonable cost-benefit analysis, unless you are a politician or a politician's client.

Maybe we could all be subsidized and then no one would have to be uncomfortable.

bill janssen

Screw ethanol. We are able to derive energy much more promising from coal refining than from from all the hassles of fermentation and cornhoolioligy. We can light the torch for the next 300 years.

Tim

Jim, your energy input vs. output argument about ethanol has a major flaw. You are assuming the corn would not be planted, harvested, and transported unless it was going to be used for ethanol production. The fact is, the corn is going to be planted, harvested, and transported anyway (whether for feed or for ethanol), so any energy output is a net plus. Also, the animal-feed by-product of ethanol production is yet another positive output.

Tonto

If you think the race for ethanol is having an effect on the price of corn, wait till you see what that nice big juicy steak is going to cost you,

JR

It seems only a few people involved in the argument have researched more than they feel necessary to allow them to jump to the conclusion that ethanol is a dying or inefficient technology. First of all, if you only consider the ethanol produced, it does seem that there is a lot of waste in its production. People seem to miss the fact that about one third by weight of the corn used to make ethanol is salvaged in the form of a feed with a much higher nutritional value than regular corn. The starch (the fat) is used, and all the valuable stuff is still there. Most people don't realize that there is probably even some of this stuff in their dog food. Also, when you open a carbonated beverage, the little fizz you hear may very well have been produced by an ethanol plant. That's right, carbon dioxide is another great by-product of the fermentation process.

About corn for a moment: Of the several entries I read, never did I see mention of the fact that the government actually pays farmers not to grow crops. Anyone ever heard of CRP? Talk about driving up corn prices--Uncle Sam is doing his part to make sure that happens anyway. Why can't we do it by demand? The need for more corn can more than be met if corn production potential was met. Ethanol is a growing energy source, with new technology discovered every day. It has potential to be both the consumer's and the farmer's friend.

Steve N

I think using corn is a great idea. I already use it to heat my home in the winter. Wisconsin winters can be cold, and the corn works wonderfully. If the price does rise, fine. The farmer gets the money instead of the guy trying to kill my fellow soldier. Need more corn? How about ending all that government payoff for "not" planting. Tell those freeloaders to start planting corn.

Ricehead

While harvesting sun energy is polite and popular at the moment, baby, it just ain't enough.

Figure out how a plant converts sunlight into bonded "fixed" carbon and then substitute photons with electricity. Then Edison's dream of putting electricity in a bottle becomes a reality, and mankind will truly separate from the other primates taking space on Earth. Think of it: fuel, food, and fiber from dirty air, water, and fast breeder reactors, just a few miles out of town. All those sugarcane fields could be tropical retirement condos. Ah, dream on. But how in this scenario would big oil and the Fed keep us in line? I look at a plant, and I'm green with envy. How, just how, does it coax a carbon to go SP3 hybrid?

Freddy

Nowhere else is there so much commotion over alternative energy than in the USA.

mike

Ethanol has been shown to have a net energy gain of about 25%. A large amount of fossil fuel is required to grow a corn crop, transport it, and process it. Ethanol also receives large subsidies at the expense of the food industry, which leads to higher food prices for the consumer.

REM

Build more bike and jog paths or widen shoulders. I know a lot of people who would bike to work a fair part of the year (this is the north, though I have heard of people biking in pretty wintry conditions) except that there's a busy highway with very narrow shoulders to contend with.

If the route is safe, some people will bike quite a distance; they'll just need a place to shower and change when they get to work. More and more places are offering that. This would help with that obesity epidemic. too.

I know that a lot of people commute too far to bike to work, but how about around town on the weekends?

Check out the picture of a bicycle parking lot in Japan (scroll down a bit) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicycling.

Jack

So we have to pay more for our food. Well, all of us who sit in an office 40 hours a week and make more money than we need should pay a little more so the farmers who are working 70 hours a week and are still in major debt can make a living, since without them, we would have nothing to eat.

TU

Interesting, I do agree with the point that Tim has made above. But the animal feed by-product he is talking about is not 100%. One bushel of corn that goes into ethanol production does not yield one bushel of animal feed by-product. In fact much less. I am assuming that Tim is from the agricultural sector if not at least involved in production agriculture. However, as with all debates, there are usually two sides of the issue. There are major negative facts about corn ethanol production that Tim has not talked about, nor has any supporter of ethanol talked about. These are the problems that the supporters just hate to talk about.

In May of 2005, ethanol was put into our local gas retail stations in our rural southern Minnesota community. Retail gas was selling for about $2 per gallon. Ethanol was selling at $1.65 per gallon. The farmer shareholders of the ethanol plants were making money at the $1.65, and that's fine. They should make money, because they took the risk to build the ethanol plants. Now here in lies the problem. By July of 2005, retail gas went to almost $3 a gallon--basically a 50% increase in just two months. Keep this figure in mind. Now, the ethanol (E85) that is sold on the retail level is supposed to be an 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline blend. Prior to the huge price increase (May of 2005), ethanol was at $1.65 per gallon. Fifteen percent (the gasoline content of E85) of $1.65 is approximately 25 cents per gallon. Now if gasoline went up 50%, logically the 15% content of E85 should have gone up by 50% or about 12 to 13 cents a gallon on the retail level ($1.65 + .13 increase = $1.78 should have been the retail price of ethanol). What frustrated me was that E85 went to $2.68 a gallon. That was a 512% increase for the gasoline component of ethanol that the ethanol industry used.

I know their labor cost, electricity, insurance, etc. did not go up by 512% in just two months from May of 2005 to July of 2005. For those of you who wonder how I arrived at the 512%, it is as follows: 15% of the $1.65 original price of E85 is .25 (which is the gasoline component). That means that all other cost of production would be attributed to the $1.40 part of the $1.65. Now we assume that basically no other cost increased in the 2 month period from May till July for the ethanol plants of production. We now take $2.68 minus the $1.40 = $1.28 for which the increase of ethanol on the retail price would be attributed to the increase of gasoline price. So take $1.28 and divide it by .25 you get a 512% increase for the gasoline that only truly went up by 50%. This is total rip-off of the American consumer and our economy. We are seeing this right now as gasoline goes up. The agriculture industry is riding the coat tails of the big oil Industry. If gasoline price goes up, it should have very little effect on the retail price of ethanol because, remember, only 15% of ethanol is gasoline. Farmers would always complain that the big oil companies are taking advantage of people. Well guess what, agriculture is doing the same thing. Isn't such a double standard of farmers, when they talk about big oil companies. This type of pricing activity has been seen all over Minnesota, Iowa, etc. So in August of 2005, I called the executive director of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association to try to get some clarification on these issues. As you might expect, he was not very comfortable talking about it. In fact he became very irritated and said he had to go. We only had about a 4-minute conversation. So in January of 2006, I attended the Minnesota Corn Growers Annual Meeting. When I tried to bring up these "thorny" issues, I almost got physically kicked out of the gambling casino where the annual meeting was held. Some farmer supporters say that ethanol has gone up because of supply and demand. If that is the case, remove the ethanol tariff, which would bring in more supply. Let's face it: There are not that many people who are using E-85 relative to gasoline. Some say the price has gone up as a result of the commercial fuel benders, retailers, etc. Everyone is pointing fingers at someone else. But no one wants to truly talk about it. If the fuel blenders, retailers, etc are the problem, then why has not the Minnesota corn growers association or other similar associations had press conferences to complain? Because they don't want to. Farmers are reeling in the huge profits. If they would keep ethanol at the $1.65 to $2.00 level, which they could, just think about what kind of automobile the American consumer would want to buy from Ford or GM. This could revolutionize the economy and break our dependance on foreign oil. But agriculture has decided to go for the short-term gain of huge profits, instead of helping this country for the long term. Later in August of 2006, I attended the Jackson County Corn Growers State Golf Tournament. This event brings in hundreds if not more than a thousand people from all over Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, etc. Our then U.S. Representative Gil Gutknecht, who has been supportive of the ethanol industry (and who I overall support on other issues), made the comment that it cost less than 90 cents per gallon to produce ethanol. Now in 2005 I know that corn was only selling for $1.60 a bushel, so it was a very cheap ingredient of ethanol as the ethanol price kept going up. In 2006 it was basically the same, even though corn at times went to $2 and more. I know now that corn has become more expensive; however so has ethanol. And ethanol also became more expensive when corn was very cheap. Two of the local farmer shareholders of a southern Minnesota ethanol plant have confirmed with me that they and all shareholders received a $1.40 dividend in 2005 and also in 2006. Huge profits. (Not many blue chip fortune 500 companies will do this.) As a result, many smaller farmers who did not have the money to invest have been run out business by these shareholders of ethanol plants. Remember, non-shareholders are selling their grain at the local elevators at market price while shareholders of ethanol plants are getting market price for their corn from the ethanol plants, plus a $1.40 dividend per bushel income, more than the small farmers are getting. These shareholders have had the money to drive up land prices, and rent prices have gone up substantially because some corn farmers are getting paid 70% to 100% more in price per bushel of corn, so they have the money to get much bigger and run their neighbor out of business. This is all done thanks to the American taxpayer through farm subsidies and consumer. The 54-cent-a-gallon tariff on imported ethanol should be removed, but of course farmer shareholder of ethanol plants don't want to see that. Farmers used to and still say, "We need free and open markets." Well, this is just another double standard. If they want free and open markets, then let completely remove the ethanol tariff. These ethanol plants are expanding on a cash basis with very little borrowed money as a result of very high margins. When they do borrow money it does not take long to pay off the notes. I say enough is enough. We as a government need to support cleaner alternative energy systems such as eclectic cars, wind, etc. And not get so politically entrenched in the very profitable ethanol industry. I am sure I provoked some supporters of ethanol. In fact, I hope I have. We really need to get these issues out on the table.

barb

I might not be as intelligent as most of the posters above, but my friends and I have discussed the use of solar and wind alternatives. I think if every new house and new community used solar and wind to heat and cool, that would reduce drastically the use of coal, electricity, and gas.

Howard

Ethanol is not a magic bullet for transportation. One of the lessons I remember from power mechanics class is that ethanol has about half the energy per gallon of gasoline. That is why engines running alcohol for racing use huge jets or injectors in their fuel systems. Indy cars make terrific power with these fuels, but they measure its use in gallons per mile.
Also, alcohols absorb moisture from the air and will attack many parts of a fuel system as some of us found out in the 80's when some stations experimented with alcohol blends.
Another concern is that alcohols burn with a nearly invisible flame, which can be very dangerous in an accident. Of course, fuel blended with gasoline might not be as big an issue.

I don't usually don't get involved in these discussions, but I never hear anyone mention these points in the media.

Bosco

Substituting half of USA gasoline needs for ethanol will be enough to bring petroleum prices down. There is no need to and also it is impossible to--in the near future--replace petroleum with ethanol. The market itself will find the right balance of ethanol/petroleum. Let the market roll freely.

Killer

A lot of people on this string keep referring to wind power. I come from West Virginia, where there are hundreds of energy-generating windmills. I thought I would let you in on a little-known fact about wind power--it kills endangered species, i.e. bats and birds. Now don't get me wrong; I am not against it. There is nothing more out of this world than to see the windmill slowly turning in the wind.

eric

I don't know what any of you are debating about. Is it the price of gas? Would you be debating if the price was 50 cents per gallon. We are all willing to pay $3 for a cup of coffee, and we don't complain when our property taxes go up, but we want to complain about the price of gas. The cost is probably meaningless for most of us when you compare it to our other expenses. Some people here would like to see a higher tax on gas--for what? Why do you want to control the kind of car a person drives? Should we all live in one-room cabins and burn wood in our fireplaces to save energy, too? I guess so. Per this argument, everyone should trade in their energy-guzzling houses and live in one-room apartments? I don't get it. Everyone is happy when our house prices go up 10 times over 30 years. We don't mind paying $500,000 for a house, but $3/gallon for gas puts a financial strain on us? Also, does everyone realize that the second-biggest income for the federal government consists royalties on gas/oil/coal. So how much more does the government need to make on fuel? I wish all Americans would just take one hour to write down their expenses for a year and see where their money really goes.

Personally, I have never seen the government solve a problem either. Once they start passing legislation, all it will do is make it more expensive for all of us. There is no such thing as taxes for corporations--or even more crazy, windfall taxes. It will always come down to the people. This is why the middle class is being squeezed out of America. Most middle class people are really poor, they just don't know it yet. When I visit other countries, I realize how America has become a Third World country. The other countries are beautiful, well maintained, and have educated people. We have become a country of broken roads, broken government, broken military, and full of people that can't even read, write, add, subtract, and know absolutely nothing about history or the rest of the world. We always talk about how corrupt the other countries are. We aren't lily-white either. We just do it differently. Don't point the finger at the price of gas--point the finger at our elected officials and ourselves. So drink that $3 Starbuck's coffee while sitting on that leather couch watching direct TV on your big-screen TV in that big house while I'm out driving.

Jason O

So what if food prices go up? If ethanol becomes plentiful, fuel costs will come down, which should offset rising food costs. There are countries out there that hate the U.S., and yet everyday, fat, disgusting Americans support them by driving their SUVs and whining about fuel costs.

Every day the U.S. imports 5.5 million barrels of crude from OPEC at $65 a barrel. That is $357 million a day we give to OPEC. Imagine giving that same money to fellow Americans, your friends, your neighbors.

People complain about jobs being exported overseas and wages going down and an economic downturn looming overhead. Ethanol is a solution for all these problems. Recession--what recession?

Wake up, people. Stop being so selfish and look at the bigger picture, that is if you can see it past your gut.

Dave Kosak

I haven't read all of the responses word for word, but I notice a definite lack, actually a huge void, of any acknowledgement of what will eventually be recognized as the only path for humanity--"new energy." Perhaps it is the old "If it's going to be, it's up to me." So here goes. Check out the New Energy Movement (NEM) and the Energy Innovation Act of 2007, supported by Dennis Kucinich, Obama, Hatch, Sanders, and others. We're talking paradigm shift and quantum leap changes in what we consider sources of energy. A few readers have caught on, however, to the essence of the energy problem and therefore the solution--and that is moving toward the direction of sharing resources, decentralization of energy production, and turning away from greed as an acceptable part of economics and politics. After all, "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few... or the one."

Matt

What would you rather have? Clean drinking water or cheaper fuel? I live around thousands of acres of corn fields. Over the last ten years of repeated corn planting our ground water has become poluted with pesticides and many other chemicals that are being sprayed. People do not realize the amount of chemicals that are spayed on the corn. Semi tanker after semi tanker. Many counties in central Wisconsin have become poluted. That is just here. The water is not even safe to wash with as it causes rashes. But yet it seems to be a big mystery why so many people in the area are dying of cancer. Our state does nothing because it is a rural area.

If you add up the amount of energy it takes to grow corn you will see it is using more than it is making. From trucking, planting, irrigating, harvesting, and refining. Ethanol really is a joke. Try making fuel out of a grass or alfalfa. It cost much less to plant, comes back multiple times a year, and requires no chemicals.

Everyone thinks it is great for the farmers but because of the nice prices for corn big business is going to gain the most out of it. Look at the price increases in fertilizer and machinery. If most of the corn goes to fuel then look out at the grocery store too.

Ken

It seems to me the best solution is to drive less. That is what my family is doing. Rather than moving from the city to a huge house in the suburbs, we stayed. With a smaller home, our utility costs are low, and easy on the planet. My commute time to work is 6 minutes, instead of an hour like many of my co-workers have to drive. It saves us a lot of time and money, and we use far less fossil fuel.

jimbo

Come on, there isn't enough corn produced to provide the amount of ethanol needed, and look what it's done already to feed prices. As for people who keep telling us about what the people in Europe pay for fuel, give it a rest. You can't justify to me petrol pricing with an us-vs.-them scenario.

Art

Does no one read all the posts? Ethanol from any available source has been shown to have virtually no net energy gain. And the individual who suggested carbon dioxide is a "great" byproduct seems to have missed that most (but not all ) climatologists blame carbon dioxide for global warming. Of course, the CO2 formed from ethanol combustion originated from photosynthesis, so it differs from fossil fuel combustion in that respect. Nevertheless, it takes about as many BTU from fossil fuel to produce a given amount of BTU from ethanol--at least with current technology.

steve

You morons who think ethanol is cheaper and cleaner-burning than gasoline are ignoring the huge amount of pollution and fuel consumption caused by manufacturing the stuff--and then combine it with the lower fuel mileage you get from the ethanol/gasoline mix. Man oh man, amazing how mystery leads millions by the nose.

Buy some big-oil stocks. They are all listed on NYMEX. Then take your profits and build an ethanol plant. It will be a good tax deduction against your stock prices.

jason

I've heard it takes 4 to 6 gallons of water to produce 1 gallon of ethanol. Where does the water go? It's a concern in the drought-stricken Midwest, where they are building ethanol plants like crazy.

Doug

If these corn and ethanol people are as corrupt and greedy as some here are saying--and they have barely got a start in this fuel business--how much more corrupt do you suppose oil is? Who do you trust: the oil companies who have been putting it to us with these outrageous gas prices? Or somebody else? I will go with anybody but oil.

Billy man

Nobody realizes that corn is not an economically viable way to support our nation's fuel needs. First of all, there is no major transportation system for this new fuel, such as a pipeline. Second of all, corn takes a while to grow, and it will ruin the land, making it impossible to grow it continuously in the same spot.

Hemp, however, is an economical, viable resource for creating ethanol. Because of its efficient growing time, it does not ruin the soil for future growing of hemp. Hemp produces twice as much seed oil as corn or soy. Also, hemp will create a balanced system. By burning carbon instead of carbon monoxide, the hemp farms will take that carbon and turn it into oxygen, therefore putting an end to acid rain and pushing toward a better, cleaner environment. It will only take 6% of the U.S. land mass to farm enough hemp to satisfy the entire U.S. fuel addiction. Hemp is a true cash crop: fuel, fiber, and food.

city-boy

JR,
The problem with your understanding of CRP acreage is that if you looked at most of the land that is in CRP, it should not have been in food production anyway. If the land was making money for the farmer, it never went to CRP. For two reasons--one, the farmer would not leave it to go to making less money for them. And the other reason was if it was good cropland, the government did not allow it to become CRP land.

RW

For those of you not from the South, Grandaddy and his friends have been making ethanol for years, and running cars with it. When our illustrious government decided we needed cheaper cars and the Big Three went to the smart cars with the computers onboard, Gramps had to quit running the shine in his car. Big horsepower comes from high-compression engines on alcohol--naturally aspirated, not computer controlled. Cars will run and be efficient if fed pure alcohol through a carb. We have been doing it for years in Indy car racing. Now just get the government to stop bothering people who make shine, and we will all have our alternative fuel.

Carl

I agree with Tom and many others, that the only real way away from oil dependence is higher taxes on fuel or oil in general. I think a gasoline price at the pump of $5 or $6 a gallon would be a good starting point. Keep in mind, however, that as soon as there is any really significant reduction in oil or gasoline consumption, oil and gas prices will drop like a stone. The profits along all stages of gasoline production and distribution are enormous and can survive drastic price cuts. For that reason, taxes would have to be continuously raised. It would not be surprising to me to see the price of gas at the pump at 50 cents a gallon and the tax at $4.50 or so. Another problem, of course, would be that the price reduction would cause an increase in consumption in markets over which we have no control. A heavy tax on oil as it comes out of the ground would seem to be in order, but who would control it and decide where it is spent?

Coralie

I live in rural Minnesota. As I look around at the fields, all I ever see are soybean and corn plants. Then I look at what I eat when I try to eat healthy. There is not much corn or soy. I eat fresh fruits and veggies, and I wonder why they can't be grown here. I eat wild salmon (canned) for the healthy fatty acids. I have cut out red meat due to heart disease in my family. I found out what they feed factory chickens and turkeys, so I won't buy them anymore. I buy local organic chicken that gets to run around and be a chicken. I eat wild game that eats what it wants. I am afraid to eat too much of our fish in this land of 10,000 lakes, because all of the fish contain mercury from the coal plants in the Dakotas that produce electricity for my fellow Minnesotans and me. I did buy my first ever new car, a Toyota Prius. I think we need to make fuel from garbage. I really hate my garbage production, and am trying to figure out how not to make any. There is solar technology three to five years away that they say will cost the same as what we pay for electricity now. They will be painting solar collecting materials onto walls and roofs, and incorporating this substance into the building materials. Check out nanosolar on the Web.

Maverick

Its all about money. The U.S. government doesn't care about its people anymore. Only if there is a definite way for the U.S. government to make money off a resource, will it make it worth their while to pursue a way to produce it. They know they can't make a large profit off taxing wind, solar, or any economic resource. Sure, they act like they care and are looking into "alternative resources," but it's all a lie. This country is headed for a collapse, and the sad thing is that it's all about greed. All we can do is watch and remember the good times.

Steve

Why not think out of the box here? We in the U.S. are running headlong at blaming the car for everything and basically pricing it out of existence. This seems short-sighted; maybe some other industries should get a look. Air transportation looks like the lead in high cost, low yield. A search on the net will tell you there are about 87,000 flights in the skies of the U.S. at any time, with about 30,000 carrying passengers. Some data-searching on aircraft will show that a commercial airliner carries anywhere from 3,000 to 15,000 gallons of fuel. Each can carry 80,000 to 200,000 pounds of payload. Question is: What fuel usage could be avoided by slowing some of this transportation down and putting in on rail? Sure, we’d all have to wait 10 days for the mail. Overnight would only be for the real necessities, and business would have to go for the old-fashioned idea of “holiday,” so people could visit Disneyland. But a train is so much more efficient per pound of payload that it’s astounding--with the best data I could find indicating 49 passenger-miles per gallon with 70% seat loading, and for comparison, the Colorado Railcar getting 328 passenger-miles per gallon. While the numbers for the Colorado Railcar were low among the train data, they still show the benefit, maybe a paradigm shift away from the “got to get there now” mentality, and reinvesting in rails would be a possible approach to the fuel issue. This is one thought: There are likely others out there--or are the American people stuck with only the currently chic possibilities?

gc

We've been driven to wasting energy and buying large vehicles (with higher margins) by oilmen and car companies who set the trends in what's popular. The reason Brazil is making so much ethanol is abundance of cane sugar and a 20-year on-again-off-again commitment to keeping its sugar forced by a heavy-handed government. Americans complain about fuel prices, but waste a lot of energy. Any improvement will profoundly affect our lifestyles (like driving 40 miles each way to work). It will be painful, but there is no simple fix. We need to accept lifestyle changes toward becoming more independent from the Middle East/South American oil habit.

Ron

The whole gas price/fuel economy/"can't build a more efficient engine unless it is the size of a lawnmower" is ridiculous. Go to any transportation museum. You will see throughout the 100 years or so that cars have been invented, gas mileage has never changed. Horsepower has changed, but gas mileage hasn't. On display at the Denver Transportation Museum is a model of the first electric car ever built. Guess what the date on it is? 1902. It went on average 100 miles and looked like a horseless carriage. It was called the 100 Mile Battery. Sometimes you could get near 200 miles out of it or more. Where did that technology go? Oh wait, you can't pay at the pump per gallon of electricity. I have heard of many gasoline engines that have been built by guru mechanics that get mileage 3 or 4 or 5 times what standard mileage is today, and they weren't tiny boxes for engines either. When they went to get a patent, they were told that kind of thing has had a patent for years. Another friend of mine owned stock in a company that made V-8 engines that ran 60 mpg on gas. He was quite surprised the company didn't do better in stock prices. Tom Hanks produced a documentary entitled "Who Killed the Electric Car?" I saw a preview for it myself but never saw the actual film publicly viewed. I remember him saying that "these cars will send you to jail before you know it," because they accelerate so fast and have such high top speeds. Where is all the technology except suppressed by the almighty gasoline dollar? I read an article here on MSN that said "We've done all we can to make engines run as efficiently as possible." If that is so, how is it that I can go out and buy high performance parts for my car without breaking the bank at all and get a gain of nearly 5 mpg better than with all the stock parts off the lot? We don't need different fuels here, people. As a country, we need to say enough is enough, bust up the racket on gasoline prices and fuel economy, and get a better engine.

thinking out loud

Looks like a good start would be to make more electric and hybrid cars. Of course, this would increase the demand of electricity. One answer to this problem would be to build more nuclear power plants.

Oh no, I said the nuclear word. What about the waste, what about the danger? Sure, everyone can look at the worst case scenario and the mistakes of the Russians and spin a web of gloom and doom, but look at the facts. I don’t think we have had a person killed in the nuclear industry, or it's been so long ago I can't remember. We have mining deaths every year, and I think they are on the rise. We also have a lot of troops out there fighting for governments that supply us oil, and they are dying by the thousands. I am told we have a good option for storing nuclear waste and a safe way to transport it, like a vessel that can withstand a collision from a train or be burned with jet fuel for an hour without releasing its contents.

Our technology and material have improved so much since the last time we built a nuclear plant (which I think was in the 1970s) that it would be safer to upgrade to the new model. There are risks in getting out of the bed in the morning or in mining for coal or living downstream of a hydroelectric plant or walking into the blade on a wind-powered generator on a wind farm. What I am saying is, I believe we are smart enough to foresee the problems and put in safeguards to prevent or reduce problems with nuclear energy. With only 400 more nuclear plants, we could power all the United States. Look, millions and millions of barrels of oil are pumped daily--how long can we keep this up? We can continue and run out of oil, and panic. Or we can conserve and make it last longer and run out and have more options in the future. Wouldn’t you rather have OPEC saying, "What can I do for you?" than "What can I do to you?

Let's review: More electric cars or hybrid cars, more nuclear technology, less dependence on foreign oil. Hey, do I want a nuclear plant in my backyard? No, and I think we are smart enough to position them away from populous areas, just like I think we are smart enough to use the available known recourses to overcome some of our energy needs. Or are we?

n2dvoid

Fossil fuels are running out.
Pollution is increasing.
The world is overpopulated.
Farmable land is dwindling.
Deserts are growing.
Forests are being burned down.
Valuable species are being exterminated.
Eco-systems are being destroyed.
Weather patterns are changing.
Violence and corruption are growing.
A few profit from the suffering of millions.
People are generally narrow-minded, judgmental, greedy, lazy, and self-centered.
It's all true.
What can you do?
Change your behavior.

Jason

Planting more corn is one thing, but no one has even asked this question: Where will we get the water for this magic fix of ethanol? Has anyone looked into how much water is required to irrigate an acre of corn? How about the fact that the ogallala aquifer (Nebraska) is seriously depleted from low rainfall and continued high corn production? What about other parts of the country? The idea of ethanol alone being anything more than a diversion is laughable. It could help, if everyone carpools, drives less for personal errands, drives smaller cars, and tries to avoid driving at peak times to stop wasting fuel when idling in traffic. The key to making alternative energy viable is to use as much of it as we can, as frugally as we can. We should get wind and solar for powering our homes (my next home will include solar panels), trade SUVs for small cars, and eliminate needless travel.

Bob

The corn-alcohol "solution" was based on using up the huge surpluses of corn that resulted from government price-support programs--not efficiency in producing energy. Argue with the figures all you want, but corn alcohol uses about as much energy as it makes available (Will Rogers had it right, "Figures don't lie, but liars figure). We have been in major alcohol production for several years with no drop whatsoever in oil consumption or oil prices. Duh. Our first step must be fuel-efficient cars. Europe's new cars average 40+ mpg. Second, we need a sunset law on all energy legislation, especially oil refining, which is a regulator's paradise but a producer's nightmare. Third, we need a realistic electric car for around-town travel, not a billion-dollar overcomplicated elephant that tries to compete with over-the-road vehicles. Fourth, it is obscene to generate electricity with fossil fuels, especially oil and gas. Advances in nuclear-plant design are here now and could be employed to safely fulfill the vast majority of our electric needs. A major point is still missed by many Americans, that we are in this together. This means cooperation, not "I want to get whatever I can."

Lambertucci

The best comment that I have seen was one from George. Brazil and other countries in Latin America are using ethanol from sugar cane. The price for exportation is very low, but the American Congress won't allow it. It's time to change this and help the USA.

Alpha

The truth is that ethanol will only provide a fraction of America's fuel--approximately 6% as shown in studies by the University of Oklahoma and the University of Michigan. Solar, wind, and water power, however, if used correctly and priced fairly, could provide nearly 62.456% of America's fuel. Using other energy sources would lower the cost of fuel to about 1/3 of the current price. The government has the resources; it chooses not to use them. The oil industry is too large to shut down. Even President Bush makes money off of oil. Shut down oil, and good-bye, monopolist.

Sunset

I'm constantly amazed at how uneducated and unrealistic most of you are about modern agricultural operations. Government price supports have not caused surpluses, and there is a valid reason for corn being piled outside grain elevators in the Midwest. I assure you it is not because there was a corn surplus. Try storage capacity, transport time, etc. Also, the crop may have been abundant in that area, but there could have been a drought 400 miles away and a shortage of corn in other parts of the country.

Someone said farmers should raise switchgrass instead of corn. There is no market for switchgrass, hence no money in switchgrass production. Let the farmers decide what to raise; you just worry about which kind of little bicycle seat you want for your new bicycle.

To Dimitri: Corn does not hurt cattle's digestive systems. Grass is OK for cattle in the summer, but there simply is not enough grass to feed the number of cattle needed for beef, especially to finished market weight. Cattle do not need antibiotics to stay alive because of corn. Read this: Almost all of Dimitri's statements are 100% false. Get educated before making statements--most of the people reading these comments don't know any better, and they actually believe you!

Smaller cars are OK--for teenage girls maybe. Bike lanes? Don't we already have enough skinny boys in tights and funny helmets polluting our highways?

Aren't there any real red-blooded Americans out there who like the sound of a big V8 roaring down the open road and do not want to have their day ruined by coming over the hill only to be staring at some skinny guy pumping feverishly on his bike pedals while he backs up 18 cars of traffic?

RLH

Screw all the politics. Just make your own fuel. There are plenty of Web sites that tell you how to do it. Quit crying, and do something.

Dusty Woodward

I think everyone should stop being so stubborn, and carpool. Or maybe drive a little less. All you cowboys who haul your cowboy hat around in your stinking diesel trucks, get a clue. We have to use less of everything and find other sources. We produce more greenhouse gasses than anyone else in the world. Don't you want your kids to be able to breathe without gasping?

DM

Learn to ride horses or drive carriages, or some other method of transportation that doesn't require gas or ethanol.

Mainster

The government (taxpayers) subsidize corn and most other agricultural products but not solar cells or wind generators. Hell, you don't even get a tax break on them anymore. Ethanol is still a polluter, and it requires fossil fuel to produce. Couldn't solar and/or wind energy be used instead to produce it? Couldn't the government subsidize solar and wind?

Nemo

I'm surprised no one has mentioned pure vegetable oil as an alternative to ethanol. Does anyone know what the relative merits are compared to ethanol? I understand that diesels must be modified to run on vegetable oil and that vegetable oil freezes in cold temperatures. If that's a show stopper, then what about the comparison between ethanol and biodiesel?

RK

It takes four gallons of water to make one gallon of ethanol. The U.S. is running out of water. With the droughts in the Midwest and Florida, where will the water come from, and at what cost? I'm told the efficiency of ethanol is low compared to gasoline or diesel. Can we even afford to make it?

Tim G

OK, many of you people have a real lack of education, and your perceptions are clouded by not understanding the facts. As an MIT graduate researcher on the subject, I am going to teach some of you a thing or two.

1. Ethanol is profitable but not energy efficient. This means that one can make money producing it at the expense of using hydrocarbons, and only profit from the subsidy.

2. Gasoline is much cheaper in the EU and other developed countries. You should thank the government you're not paying $6 a gallon.

3. Solar is not the silver bullet either. It takes more than four years to get the energy back from the energy spent in the manufacturing process.

4. Hydrocarbon fuels are here to stay, like it or not.

John L

Whoever wrote the pro side of this article didn't bother to do their homework. Corn is not the only source of ethanol. They're still refining the process, but it can be derived from many other organic sources.

gary

Ethanol is a big mistake. The poor people will feel it first with high food prices. Social Security will need to be raised by 50%. If ethanol were a good product, it wouldn't have to be subsidized by our government. Education could use the money. This is a issue that we don't need; it makes politicians side-step the real issues like health care, lower insurance rates, and opportunities for higher education for our children--a free education if the government is giving money away.

If ethanol is so good, why not import it from Brazil and not put a tariff on it? The best solution would be--and they can do it--to make the carmakers increase their mpg to 40 mpg.

The real problem with ethanol is the water that the plants use. Millions of gallons are used each and every day. That's pretty tough in a drought area. Soon, there will be no drinking water for people--but enough ethanol for cars.

hm

Here is the real deal: Solar power would be a great option, especially in the South. However, has anyone actually priced out what it costs to get just one solar panel installed? The price is ridiculous, and with the economy dividing the rich and the poor (and the middle class disappearing), how are average American citizens expected to convert their homes?

I recently had to purchase an SUV that weighed more than 6,000 pounds. Why? Because it gave our family a $10,000 dollar tax break while the hybrid offers only a $2,000 dollar tax break. It is clear that this Administration is driven by oil profits. Nothing will be achieved until Bush, who has longtime ties with the oil companies, is out of office.

ddg

Ethanol produces more bang for the buck. It costs more to produce a gallon of gasoline than a gallon of ethanol. This tax credit everyone is worried about goes to the oil company for mixing ethanol with gasoline. Maybe we should look at building an engine for ethanol, instead of making a gasoline engine.

Sunset

This debate is much bigger than ethanol. It's about the American way of life. We don't want to drive little cars or carpool with four people or ride bicycles. We like big SUVs and 1-ton Ford 6.0 diesel trucks that can burn rubber and outrun little cars with 13-inch tires that I wouldn't let my daughter drive in public.

Brian

Bottom line for me as a consumer is, until there is a more efficient form of fuel than we have now, I will stick with gasoline (no matter where it comes from). As with anyone else on a budget, I will always choose what gives me the best value for my money. Ethanol is not a viable option for me.

I just don't understand where the whole "green" aspect of ethanol comes from. It is apparent from the previous posts of informed consumers that the impact to the environment from ethanol is the same as, if not greater than, gasoline. Incidentally, it does seem that ethanol does not have any data or at least some type of model associated with the long-term impact to the environment.

By the way, for those of you who drive SUVs and constantly complain about gas prices; why do a lot of you never take the time to look in the mirror? You are the reason we pay the prices we pay. You continually burn gas to take junior here or little Sally there. Run to the store and then oops, "I forgot the milk," and instead of waiting to go pick up milk on your next excursion, make a separate trip and burn even more gas.

I find it especially funny to see an SUV or truck with a save-the-environment sticker on the bumper. You people talk out of both sides of your mouth. You want a clean environment, but God forbid you give up the SUVs you can take camping with you so you can go hug trees.

Ethanol is another lame attempt by the Washington elite to trick us into keeping our mouths shut for a little while. From what I have seen here, it has not worked, and ethanol will go the way of the dinosaur. The only real solution to our problem of oil dependence is to drive less, and as long as we are a society that has to have everything we want--and have it right now--we will never end our dependence.

ST

The USA burns 145 billion gallons of gas a year, plus about 55 billion gallons of diesel. You put a 100 million plug-in hybrid cars out there with an electric battery capacity of around 40 miles, and put a big dent in that 145-billion-gallons-a-year addiction. You would knock it down by 80%. Now that 15 billion gallons (of ethanol) goes a long way.

Niali

Drilling for domestic oil doesn't help our ecological issues; it's not like American oil burns any cleaner than Iraqi oil.

The laws of conservation of matter and energy state that the sum total of all matter and all energy is a constant, and that while each can be converted to the other, neither is created or destroyed. This applies to manufacturing processes as well. Stop worrying about the three--no, four!--wait, six, gallons of water used to make a gallon of ethanol. The water isn't destroyed; it's released as vapor at various stages, including the reaction inside your car's engine. It'll all wind up back where it came from.

Nuclear energy does offer fantastic quantities of electrical power, but that's only recently become useful for consumer vehicles. We can't run those vehicles on a reactor, of course; we discourage the distribution of fissile materials to just anyone with a driver's license, even if the reactor would fit in the car (it won't). Now that electrical storage systems have progressed to the point where we can store and use realistic amounts of electrical power inside a passenger vehicle, perhaps we should restart the nuclear reactors we've taken off-line. They're already built, anyway.

NP

It is all good to propose alternative energy sources to save the planet, but alternative energy alone will never solve the problem--unless we all finally decide to start using energy-efficient cars.

I am from Europe, and currently pay $5.40 U.S. per gallon of gasoline, but I can assure you that mile for mile I pay less than half that the average American pays. The American mentality that "bigger is better" is not always correct, and if American society starts accepting that it is honorable to drive a car that merely drinks gas rather than guzzles it, the dependence of the U.S. on oil will be reduced greatly and a huge amount of pollution prevented.

If you want to go fast and have nice legroom and a place to put your luggage or tools, you don't need to get a monster SUV. My city car (tiny by U.S. standards) tops 90 mph, and my dad's van isn't much slower, and yet they get mileage much much better than the typical Dodge Ram.

If the U.S. changes this mentality, it will be a great step forward, and the use of alternative energy could actually make an impact, too. If any of you Americans care even the bare minimum about your country (and the world), you should be pushing the government into taking measures to raise gas-guzzler taxes and provide incentives for efficient cars and cheap solar/wind energy. It is true that solar and wind are still expensive, but this is an issue of economies of scale--the production process for a solar panel is not extraordinarily expensive, but making them in small volumes is, and if no one buys them, they will always remain in small volume.

I hope that the people who still don't get it when I say "efficiency" won't be grumbling when the world's climate starts to hurt us badly. Well, come to think of it, they won't. Asthma and smog will have removed them long before.
NP

Weston

From skimming through the long page of comments here, I can see not many country- or agriculture-based people have written opinions.

I will say this, even if ethanol isn't the savior for oil dependency, it is a start. The impact of higher corn prices may cost you an extra 20 cents on a bag of Doritos, but it is giving the American farmer a chance to thrive again. When that happens, it all trickles down. That farmer can now go into the city and buy a newer pickup from the car dealer who is complaining about paying a couple bucks more at the store for his weekly food. I would imagine his newfound commission will cover that expense. It then keeps trickling down, and maybe to whatever job you have. Even if you are a waiter or waitress, maybe you get a bigger tip from the farmer--and so on and so on. Given this side of the story, I know there are some drawbacks and some problems that will have to be solved eventually.

Water is a big issue, but the efficiency of these plants is rising each year. They are getting more and more ethanol out of each bushel of corn. You have to remember there is still a lot of research going on. The more efficient, the less water needed to attain that gallon of ethanol.

Emissions? There are too many differing opinions, but either way it looks as if it is not any worse than the gasoline we burn now, just more stimulating to the economy. I take that as a wash.

Subsidy? I will agree, the subsidy for the ethanol makers needs to be gradually reduced. As far as farm subsidies go, they have it all backward. The government shells out millions to the big farmer who is netting millions a year already. The subsidies need to be reversed so that if you net X amount or more, you are not given any subsidy. At the same time, though, you all complain about food prices going up because of higher-priced corn. How do you think it was able to stay that low? That's right: The farmer was getting money from the government. So if you take that away, the American public foots the bill, because prices are going up.

Those are just some views from the rural life in Kansas. It is a lot different from what people perceive in the big city.

Zack Watkins

It's my understanding that ethanol is nothing but a filler. It can be mixed with gas but cannot run an engine by itself. Just another marketing gimmick.

Take away a tenth of a gallon of gas at 30 cents a tenth (assuming $3 dollars a gallon) and replace it with ethanol at 75 cents a tenth (assuming $7.50 a gallon to produce)--the gallon of fuel now costs $3.45 instead of $3 and also will not deliver as many miles per gallon (MPG) as pure gas.

Tell me: What is so great about this achievement?

Most manufacturers just sell the same product in a smaller package for the same amount that the larger size used to cost. This has been going on for years. In most supermarkets, they are required to give you the actual cost per unit (ounce, pound, etc.) for comparison purposes.

So, essentially what we are buying now at the gas pumps is a gas compound, watered down with a higher cost but less efficient ethanol. And since the U.S. standard is a gallon at the pumps, the quantity stays the same, but the cost keeps rising.

I'm still not sure what they do with that extra tenth per gallon I give them every time I put in gas. I'm sure the government and oil companies will use it wisely though.

Todd

Fuel economy needs to begin with automakers. To beat this fuel problem, it's going to take a combined effort. Consumers, automakers, fuel providers, and our elected officials have to get it together. I think consumers need to be frugal when purchasing vehicles and demand fuel economy. Government needs to demand a higher fuel efficiency from automakers. It's unreasonable to believe that with the technology we have today, it is impossible to develop an extremely fuel-efficient vehicle that is comfortable to drive. I also get tired of hearing that gas is more in other countries. The fact is most consumers in other countries don't have to drive the miles we do just to go to work each day. They also have more opportunities to use public transportation.

jake

Instead of wasting all that energy and time on converting corn to ethanol, they should just be making more corn oil. You can convert any diesel engine to burn corn oil and get far better gas mileage. The only problem is getting more people to buy a diesel and convert it. I've been running my 2003 Jetta on used corn/soybean oil for the past two years. I have saved a bundle in fuel costs.

Nemo

In the U.S., vegetable oil is like the elephant in the room. If it's being discounted for some valid reason, someone should say why.

les

The debate about corn and its use as fuel is silly. The whole point is to help the poor farmers. The truth is that the process of growing corn for fuel and converting it to ethanol is terribly energy-inefficient when considering all the diesel fuel a farmer uses to plant, harvest, transport, etc. and the energy the fermentation/distillation plant uses to make the ethanol. It is about a 20% yield. Biodeisel from soybeans or other oil plants is a far more energy-efficient use of our resources. It compares to the efficiency of refining crude oil. The problem is that the U.S. auto industry has ignored diesel fuel for too long. What is needed is a true diesel hybrid car where the electric car uses a diesel engine to recharge the batteries only. The car could be recharged at night off the power grid.

Electric power is another story. All coal power plants should be replaced in the next 20 years with wind, solar, or nuclear power. Then we'll finally have a green society.

Larry Potter

Raise taxes on all types of fossil fuel and crude oil use. Use the taxes to build nuclear plants, mass-transit systems, and railroad infrastructure.

Kermit

Like Weston, I come from an agricultural background, and skimming through the pages find that many people don't have the facts straight. To repeat what Weston said, with the price of corn being higher, the government is no longer subsidizing corn, and the farmer makes more money and spends it on goods produced by other industries. I don't know where Zack gets the idea it is just filler. While ethanol may not quite have the energy of gasoline, it sure will burn and generate power. I also saw a comment about making ethanol out of imported subsidized sugar. We put a tariff on this sugar to counteract the subsidy by the foreign government. If this was not done, we would have to subsidize our sugar-beet and sugarcane farmers (which we don't now), or they would be out of business.

mike

I love all this talk of biofuels. It makes enviro-nuts feel justified in a completely false position. All the corn in the world cannot replace oil. But not because the world does not care about the environment or because stupid Westerners love throwing their money at Saudi princes who love buying billion-dollar yachts and financing global terror. Corn will not replace oil because we have decades of old infrastructure that supports the production and transportation of petroleum and its products. Solar power is good and can greatly reduce a home's energy bills, but the grid it's on will still be powered by coal (at least in Louisiana; I cannot speak for the rest of the country).

And one thing I would very much like to touch on: The Third World has a large number of starving people not because America is addicted to oil and cheeseburgers but because it has no infrastructure to support life. These countries usually cannot irrigate lands to farm, do not have road/rail systems to transport the agricultural products, do not have stable currencies to support the trade of goods (hence the ridiculously large, complex, and lucrative black markets in Africa and Asia), and have corrupt government offices overseeing the trade. American soccer moms in their Lexus SUVs don't starve poor people. The 1900-era French, British, and Dutch colonial rule starved them (and the shell countries they left behind still starve them). We Americans are not too familiar with the ramifications of European colonial policies anymore; we kicked the British out a few centuries back.

But I digress...

In the Doha talks, the members of the WTO couldn't even lower barriers on textile tariffs. What in the world makes you think any country can sway enough countries to cut down on energy consumption? It will not happen, and if America stops seeking the cheapest and most reliable source of energy, China will. And then China will have the hegemony of the world.

Finally, we might like to blame SUVs and light trucks for gas prices, but in reality the demand for energy from these vehicles is small. If you think about it, every product you own demands energy. From the socks on your feet (or sandals if you're more Blue State than I) to the very computer you are reading this on requires immense amounts of energy to produce. So unless we as a country want to "live off the grid" with a couple of politically crazed "free-thinkers" (whom I consider equal in rational thought to the Jihadists of the world), we are going to have to use oil, and lots of it.

JEFF

Why not bring back the hemp industry? All kinds of things can be made from hemp--food, fuel, clothing, and more. Plus, growing hemp is good for the environment as it uses up ample supplies of greenhouse gases. Of course, the reason they don't use hemp for these things is because hemp products are extremely durable, food from hemp is extremely beneficial, and making fuel from hemp could put the big oil companies out of business. Hemp could be grown in big cities to minimize carbon monoxide and other pollutants. Hemp is easily grown almost anywhere in the U.S. There are multiple varieties, and the benefits of hemp are greater than those of almost any other plant.

James

Ethanol makes sense because of the ease of distributed production, which improves national security and provides the most seamless transition (flex fuel vehicles already exist). Corn sugars are not the only feedstock for ethanol production and are the worst choice. Cellulosic is a good choice, but cyanobacterium is the best choice, because it acts to scrub the atmosphere of carbon dioxide, creates ethanol as waste, and has a biomass that is directly converted to biodiesel. It is simply an engineering problem and a lack of will. I said as much to my Congressional reps when I wrote them in 2003. A lot of good it did.

Sylvester

Everyone is talking about corn. Don't forget the water it takes to make alcohol. Where will the water come from? The aquifers are running low. A small town in southern Minnesota wanted to have an alcohol plant but could not because of the water shortage.

A fourteen-year old kid

Instead of sitting at your computers screaming about what should be done, why don't you idiots get off your butts and actually do something? Sure, yell about how everyone else is imperfect and then tell them how to act, but don't ever follow your own advice. For God's sake.

Joe

Diesel engines were originally designed to run on a number of different fuels. You can make an old diesel Benz run on used restaurant oil/grease. Bring biodiesel to trucks. It will make a dent in the U.S. dependency on foreign oil.

Steve

Why is it that the government doesn't just ration gas instead allowing the oil companies to reap the rewards and put so many people in the poorhouse? Then we wouldn't be dependant on OPEC, and many would begin to buy small cars and use public transportation.

Garp

The answer is to use less fuel in our vehicles. We can do this by going with an electric propulsion system. After all, a hybrid gets 60 mpg while using the electric propulsion portion and only gets 30 mpg while using the combustion engine propulsion system. The result is we use less gas to get the same mileage.

If we must use ethanol, then let’s store it for seven years before converting it to fuel. That way, we’ll be prepared for disasters such as drought. However, people come first. No one should starve just so that we can have fuel.

Find below a suggestion that I attempted to send to the White House. We will never know unless we try.

As an individual who has been developing different aspects of electric propulsion systems for 30 years now, I would like to suggest a subtle change in the energy policy. As such, I’ve come to realize that electric propulsion systems are not only more efficient but also pollute much less than their combustion engine driven propulsion system counterparts. The reasons that U.S. vehicle manufacturers are having problems adopting electrical propulsion systems mainly fall into two categories.

• Since the basic concept of the combustion engine has been around for 100 years, automakers are not concerned with paying patent royalties for the basic concept. However, since there are many patents out on different aspects of electrical propulsion systems, automakers must put billions of dollars into research and development and they can only hope that they won’t have to pay royalties on top of the outrageous development costs. This makes it more profitable for automakers to only offer combustion engine solutions in their vehicles.

• Since every automaker is required to design, develop, and patent their own electrical propulsion systems, it is difficult to come up with a standardized refueling method for electrical propulsion systems that is cheaper, faster, and safer.

As such, I would like to suggest that an entity responsible for filtering through all of the different aspects of electrical propulsion systems be formed. Its job is to examine all of the different systems available for electric propulsion systems and decide over the course of one year which concepts the government should make available to automakers over the next 20 years, free of patent royalty charges. Instead of expensively providing grant money for the development of these electrical propulsion systems, the government should then pay the patent royalties on those aspects chosen by the committee mentioned above for the next 20 years. In this way, automakers will have a less expensive and standardized framework to wrap their electrical propulsion designs around, making them much less risky. As for this committee:

• All findings should be made public with the exception of those concepts not yet patented. This should include patent pending devices. The government should provide recourse for provisional patent holders whose concepts have been compromised after being made public by this committee.
• Names should be eliminated from the process so that a particular concept can’t be associated with a particular company, especially by the committee judges. This should allow individuals to be on an equal footing with large corporations.
• This committee should allow input from the public during this process so that only the “practical” concepts are selected and favoritism is avoided.

The result should be an electrical propulsion system requiring drastically reduced development costs and a standardized refueling method that is practical. Furthermore, participants should be allowed from around the world, both individuals and corporations.

Neil

The suggestions that Garp gives don't make sense. This is just subsidizing the automakers, which is the same boat the ethanol producers are in. Bottom line, it all comes down to money for both the consumer and the supplier. Sure, hybrids are great, but also much more expensive. Even with the cost savings, it would take five years longer to equalize the benefits of a hybrid than it would to just purchase a cheaper Honda Civic that gets 40 mpg anyway. People can argue the benefits, but it really all comes down to money in our pockets.

Electric cars should be much cheaper since it has fewer components than a standard gasoline engine. If you live in a big city, you should have an electric car. Driving a few miles to work in a gas car is ridiculous.

Charlie

I'm afraid Justin is a pigeon for the ethanol industry. Corn is the worst of all possible choices for ethanol production. First of all, it is grown on prime agricultural land. Switch grass, by contrast, can be grown on degraded land and does not need to be replanted year after year. Second, corn takes nitrogen from the soil. Failure to rotate corn with legumes, such as soybeans, which put nitrogen back into the soil, means that more and more chemical fertilizers (or hog manure, which stinks to high heaven) will have to be put on the land. That will increase the costs of ethanol and, with runoff from rains, will end up in our lakes and rivers. Third, corn is a row crop, which means it is tilled, and tilling the land lends itself greatly to soil erosion. Our lakes and rivers are dirty enough without adding more soil to them. And it reduces the amount of topsoil available for growing crops. Fourth, failure to rotate corn with other crops will lead to possible pest problems, increasing the use of pesticides that again only benefit the chemical companies and end up in our food chain and water resources. Fifth, cattlemen and pork producers are complaining loudly about the price of corn. If you want to continue eating big steaks, consider that the cost is going to rise substantially. Sixth, the amount of groundwater used by ethanol plants is staggering. Aquifers collect their water slowly over time as rain seeps through layers of soil, sand, clay, and rock. This is the purest water we have, folks. And ethanol producers are using it at a rate you wouldn't believe. I don't know who Justin Bachman is, but he doesn't know a hill of beans.
--Charlie

jack

Charlie, you're a hippy. You have a lot to learn about agriculture.

cody

I think ethanol is a good idea that shouldn't be killed before it has a chance to show its benefits. If anything, it is a step in the right direction toward finding a complete solution to our fuel problems. It's better to support efforts to solve our oil dependency than to sit around and theorize about how it's not going to work.

Peter

Economics and science will win out and solve the problem. Ethanol was/is the start of this journey. We will move on to additional solutions. Each one will be economically more sound and more efficient. Be patient.

shadow

Ethanol is just not a good long-term alternative, because the more we use--just like with oil--the more the price goes up. And with less corn available as food, up also go food prices.

Also it is a proven fact that if all the farmers in the entire USA grew only corn and had a bumper crop, it wouldn't even supply 25% of our oil needs.

It would also cause the price of land to increase, therefore making housing a problem for the poor. As well, the rising food prices would cause the poor to be under-nourished because they can't afford food. This is a ridiculous "long term" solution that won't work "long" term.

It's also a proven fact that ethanol is less efficient than gasoline, up to 20% fewer miles per gallon, and fewer than 50% of all cars can safely use ethanol; it burns too hot and ruins the carburetors unless those cars are fitted with new carburetors/systems, and there also is the problem that most people with older cars can't afford to convert.

What we need is to spend more money and time developing hydrogen technology, if not for cars, then in place of coal or oil energy plants that pollute a lot.

Wind energy is great as long as you have enough of it on a regular basis; however, sometimes you don't get enough and these wind farms just use up way too much land we will need for our growing population.

Peter

Jason asks if anyone has looked into water use in ethanol production. Yes, we have. The answer, including the growing and fermenting processes, is about 1,700 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol produced. The drain on Farm Belt aquifers is enormous. In fact, if the Senate has its way and gets into law its bill requiring the production of 36 billion gallons of ethanol annually, the amount of water used would empty Lake Erie every two years.

The best solution to our foreign energy dependence problem is nuclear energy. As already noted, it is among the safest industries in which to work, it produces no greenhouse gases, it is the cheapest method for producing electricity, and if the French closed-cycle system is used, it produces very small amounts of waste. This method is already used with great success in France, Great Britain, Sweden, Japan, and elsewhere. The hold-up in this country is caused by the oil, coal, and corn interests. Their revenues would be seriously diminished if we, like the French, supplied half of all our energy needs using safe, modern nuclear power plants.

Robert

We need to do something about our changing climate, even if we do use food for fuel. Apparently, no one else has ever heard of "overpopulation" because some poor people are starving. I'm sorry they're starving, but we shouldn't put the entire population at risk for one demographic.

Michael

As long as the dollar drives the economy, it, too, will drive all decision making in this country. Most of you seem to be forgetting the "golden rule." He who has the gold, rules. It's that simple, as long as Big Oil continues to rake in huge profits, nothing will change. As long as we allow high dollar lobbyists on Capitol Hill, nothing will change. Who is to blame for all of these problems? You and I, of course. We elect these idiots over and over again and watch them fight for scraps thrown to them by big business, or worse, many just sit on their fat lazy butts at home and watch others vote (that is the majority of you). The U.S. has the lowest voter turnout of any Western society and the lowest voter turnout of any free voting society in the world. You want change? Start with yourselves. Start by voting, start by driving less if you can, start by conserving whenever, and wherever possible. Don't wait for others to do it for you.

Bill Dally

Corn is not the answer for fuel. It's only creating more problems for the economy. Not only will we have high fuel cost but also high food prices. The farmers aren't getting so rich as some claim either, since fertilizer and other costs have suddenly increased horrifically. The livestock industry is struggling. The feedlots are losing big bucks on every head of cattle they fatten. The packers can't increase their prices to the stores because of consumer resistance. So if the cowmen can't get a decent price for their calves, they're not going to sit on their hands and hope for better times like they used to. They will get rid of the critters, and some will join the bandwagon and plant corn.

Also a lot of highly erodible land will come out of the CRP, a government program to protect fragile lands. They will wash away in time and be of little use for future generations, not to mention of soil erosion polluting our watersheds.

Ron Berry

What I am not hearing in all of these suggestions is that we should drill for more of the oil that is available to us right here in the USA. It is time to tell the tree huggers that God placed man at the top of the food chain, and He provided the resources around us for our use and consumption.

Don't get me wrong, one of my concerns about ethanol is that the increased need for corn and other crops will cause more land to be farmed, thus leaving very little habitat for wildlife, but the Alaska pipeline has proven that wildlife and oil drilling can go together with out a negative impact.

Bill mentioned CRP, and I agree with him on the need for such programs.

In a perfect world, we would cut our consumption, but the harsh reality is that we want more, not less.

I believe using all of the oil resources available here in the USA and exploring sun and wind sources will be the answer. It may take tax breaks for people to spend the money to install such devices in their homes, but in the long run those tax monies would be recouped by not having to spend tax money to subsidize programs like ethanol.
And make no mistake, ethanol is not an answer; it is a program.

paul Johnson

Solar costs about .13 to .14 per unit. Coal costs about .03 per unit. Now, which costs less? Hmmm? Don't ya' just hate reality? The answer to our problem is not solar, not biofuels, but coal gasification. Coal can be extracted and processed in an environmentally friendly way. Look it up yourself. Don't take my word for it.

Steve H

Ethanol may help the corn farmer, but it does not help the rest of those who farm in areas that are not suitable for row crops. The rising costs of feed compounded with high fuel prices/transportation of animals and agricultural products are forcing many to liquidate in an already marginally profitable situation. Add the exorbitant price of fertilizer/hay/production costs coupled with a lack of rainfall exaggerate an impossible outcome. As a cattle farmer/livestock hauler, all I can hope to do is downsize, pay off as much debt as possible and try to survive the "recession" that we are not in. My local John Deere dealer has certainly not missed an opportunity to gouge me. As for the other comments, diesel fuel is my largest expense, and I don't receive subsidies of any kind.

Jamie

Why can't we use something like the kudzu for a fuel source? They make machinery that will bale it. It grows rapidly enough and anywhere.

Tylor

Dependence on ethanol or petroleum is the enemy here--we need emphasis on clean energy and more options in public transit. Our dependence on automobiles will never disappear, so what are the options we can develop that will modify our current obsessions into clean ones?

Furthermore, ethanol production is not limited to the U.S., and the tariffs we've imposed on imports doesn't change the fact that thousands of acres of rainforests are decimated annually as the poor farmers in South America find greater profit in producing cash crops, like corn, for their consumption and now ours. Ethanol is becoming an equal problem to petroleum in terms of environmental degradation. What's the argument, really?

my2cents

Well, personally, I think that is just trading problem with another problem. What happens when you add ethonol to fuel? Let me tell you, ethanol, when added to fuel, lowers the quality of the fuel. A motor will not run on 13 to 15 percent current level, is 10 percent. Then when shipped by trucks carrying different fuel loads when mixed over time the mix becomes inaccurate, putting it closer maybe even over the 13 to 15 percent mark. Now taking this into consideration, when a car runs bad, what does it do? It puts off more smog and pollution and gets fewer miles to a gallon. They said it was to decrease our consumption and lower our dependency on foreign oils. But in fact it actually has done what. Raised it. Why? Ok, here we go. Lowered fuel mileage requires more of it. Increased polloution poor retension of fuel. Charge higher prices for the fuel with 10 percent of it gone. That means that for every load of fuel 10 percent is ethonol. So you pay the same price for that ethanol as you would for gasoline. Then you pay for man hours to mix, transport, refine it. Then you have payed a higher price for less fuel that has higher pollution values--also has a higher evaporation rate and less effiecency. That didn't even decrease our dependency on foreign oils. But who knows, right? That's just my 2 cents.

Ben

Why can't sugar beets be used for making ethanol instead of dried up corn?

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